Mark Story: Derrick Locke turns on the late show

Senior's 83-yard TD caps Commonwealth career

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 14, 2010 

One final time, Derrick Locke was again creating one of the most electrifying scenarios Commonwealth Stadium has ever seen.

The sprinter turned star Kentucky running back turned the corner of an opponent's defense with only empty green space ahead.

Unless Usain Bolt was making a guest appearance in the Vanderbilt secondary, all 60,391 spectators in Commonwealth knew what Locke in the open field was going to mean:

In this case, an untouched 83-yard jaunt to the house.

Except with the UK burner making his first appearance after missing four agonizing games with a shoulder injury, something none of us had ever seen before was playing out in real time.

Vandy defenders were catching up to Locke. From behind.

On a play that began at the Kentucky 17, Locke hit the 40-yard line "and I was like 'Oh shoot, I may not make it,' " he said later. "I could see the defense coming up on me. I'm not as fast now as I normally am. I told myself, 'He's going to get close, don't let him tackle you.' "

In this case, the football gods gave Derrick Locke the Hollywood ending.

Doing a shake and a shimmy to keep from being dragged down, Locke put the finishing touches on Kentucky's 38-20 victory over Vanderbilt with an 83-yard touchdown run.

It is the second straight year that UK (6-5) beat Vandy to get bowl eligible. It means that Locke is part — a big part — of a Wildcats senior class that has been eligible for post-season play in every season in which it wore Kentucky blue.

Yet, for Locke, one final moment of glory on Senior Day had a more personal meaning.

Ever since he suffered what was initially diagnosed as a "stinger" in his right shoulder against Auburn, the dynamic UK back had been in football purgatory.

The injury wasn't supposed to have been serious, yet Locke found himself with numbness in his right arm and shoulder. For weeks, he couldn't raise his arm above his head.

In the meantime, the sand was running out of the hour glass on a senior year in which he had promised to run for 1,000 yards.

The low point for Locke came when he sat in a Lexington sports bar and watched his teammates in what became a 24-17 loss at Mississippi State.

"I could see plays, especially in that game, where, I thought, if I was there, I could make a difference," Locke said. "That one, it was hard to take."

It was not until Locke had tested his arm and shoulder a couple of days in practice last week that he made the decision to return against Vandy.

By the time he was on the field before a disappointingly small group of UK fans that showed up early for Saturday's Senior Day festivities, Locke found himself filled with emotion.

In the summer of 2009, his sister, Latavia, died unexpectedly. She left behind four children, including a little boy, Stashun, who was only weeks old when his mother passed.

When Locke was introduced to run onto the C.M. Newton Field to join his family Saturday before the traditional playing of My Old Kentucky Home, Stashun raced forward to meet his uncle.

"Kind of emotional," Locke said of the moment. "I was thinking about my sister. I thought she'd be here. I do know she was watching me."

What all who viewed Locke saw for most of Saturday was a rusty back not in "football shape."

The explosion that has been synonymous with the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Hugo, Okla., product was absent. Early in the second quarter, UK faced a third-and-18 at its 21. Quarterback Mike Hartline hit Locke with a swing pass.

Locke converted the pass into a 20-yard gain and a first down. But the normal Derrick Locke would have taken the ample space available and made something far more from the play.

"When we hit that screen, I made mention to our offensive guys that he doesn't look the same," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "He didn't look like the same Derrick."

Until deep into Saturday's game, Locke had 21 carries for 62 yards.

After DLocke's 83-yard farewell to Commonwealth Stadium, his numbers ended up 22 carries for 145 yards with two touchdowns.

"I put on my Facebook that if God let me go the whole game, I'd dedicate it to the fans and go out with something special," Locke said.

One final time — even if it was more shimmy than sprint — No. 20 lit up Commonwealth.

As endings go, they don't get much better.

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